The Fear of the Lord

Throughout the scriptures, we are counseled to overcome our fears. God told Abraham, Hagar, and Jacob to “fear not” as they passed through troubling experiences (Genesis 15:1, Genesis 21:17, Genesis 46:3). Moses told the Israelites not to be afraid when they saw the glory of the Lord on Mount Sinai (Exodus 20:20). Then, as they prepared to enter the promised land, he charged them to “be strong and of a good courage,… fear not, neither be dismayed, an admonition which was echoed by his successor Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, Joshua 10:25). Isaiah counseled King Ahaz not to fear the impending invasion from the armies of his two northern neighbors, Israel and Syria, adding that he should not be “faint-hearted” (Isaiah 7:4, 2 Nephi 17:4). Similarly, when a Lamanite army threatened Alma and his people in the land of Helam, he “exhorted them that they should not be frightened, but that they should remember the Lord their God and he would deliver them. Therefore they hushed their fears” (Mosiah 23:27-28).

Fear can be immobilizing. It can cause tunnel vision, reducing our awareness of our options. It can also affect the way we interact with other people, reducing our level of civility and impairing our ability to collaborate. Clearly, the Lord wants us to manage and curtail this damaging emotion.

However, throughout the scriptures, particularly in the book of Proverbs, we are also regularly encouraged to fear God. Here are a few examples:

  • “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7).
  • “In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence” (Proverbs 14:26).
  • “The fear of the LORD tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied” (Proverbs 19:23).
  • “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honour, and life” (Proverbs 22:4).

How can a negative emotion like fear lead to such positive outcomes?

We might be tempted to think that the fear of the Lord is an entirely different emotion from the fear that we were describing above, and we’d be partly right. Elder David A. Bednar said that godly fear is “different from but related to the fears we often experience.” He went on to identify three components of this “righteous fear:”

  1. “a deep feeling of reverence, respect, and awe for the Lord Jesus Christ”
  2. “obedience to His commandments” and
  3. “anticipation of the Final Judgment and justice at His hand”

(“Therefore They Hushed Their Fears,” General Conference, April 2015)

So this godly fear includes a vivid awareness of potential negative outcomes, particularly when it matters most for us: at the Final Judgment. This awareness leads us to turn our hearts and our minds to the only One who can help us avoid those outcomes: Jesus Christ. That is why the fear of the Lord leads to knowledge, confidence, and life. As we turn to Him and exercise faith in Him, our sense of what Elder Bednar called “spiritual settledness” increases, and we are able to avoid the damaging effects of worldly fear.

The angel who appeared to King Benjamin brought “glad tidings of great joy” (Mosiah 3:3-4). But the initial reaction of Benjamin’s people to the message was fear. They fell to the earth, “for the fear of the Lord had come upon them.” They prayed for mercy and for forgiveness. Only then were they filled with joy, as their sins were washed away. (See Mosiah 4:1-3.)

Benjamin’s grandsons, the sons of Mosiah, experienced something similar years later, when they were called to repentance by an angel. (See Alma 36:7.) And when one of those grandsons, Ammon, taught a Lamanite king, everyone in the room had a similar experience, “they also began to cry unto God, for the fear of the Lord had come upon them also.” (Alma 19:15).

The fear of the Lord, in other words, is not a comfortable feeling. It is a motivating force, which prompts us to reach out to Him and receive His grace. It includes a sober recognition that without His help, we are lost. We cannot save ourselves from the challenges we face. But it also includes a confidence that, with His help, we can overcome every obstacle, even the obstacles we have created for ourselves. For this reason, Elder Bednar says, “Unlike worldly fear that creates alarm and anxiety, godly fear is a source of peace, assurance, and confidence…. Godly fear dispels mortal fears.” In the end, our reverence and respect for God will enable us to overcome our worldly fears and follow His path toward eternal life.

Today, I will replace my worldly fears with godly fear. I will strive to be aware of the dangers I face, place my trust in God, and follow Him.

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